I’ve got about 24 hours in Bryce Canyon – time for a sunset over the canyon, and a long hiking loop on the following day before continuing onto Zion National Park.
Bryce Canyon Highlights
- You can’t really go wrong about where to watch the sunset – although Sunset Point is the most spectacular (get there early to get a parking spot or catch the shuttle bus). Or if you want to avoid the crowds, you’ll have Paria View more or less to yourself.
- Navajo Loop Trail is the best walk if you’re limited for time or not up for a longer walk – even better, combine the Navajo Loop Trail and Queens Garden Trail (2.9 miles / 4.6kms) which captures some of the most impressive vistas. And start as early as you can to beat the crowds on the Queens Garden Trail.
- Fairyland Loop is perhaps the best of both worlds – not as spectacular as Navajo Loop Trail, but a more contemplative experience without the crowds with a variety of rock formations
- You could easily spend a few days here – but equally I felt a full day was sufficient (or two days to spread out a few walks). Just make sure you get there in time for at least one sunset! And get up early to avoid the crowds.
Bryce Canyon sunset
I arrive at the spectacular Bryce Canyon late in the afternoon after a 5-hour drive from Las Vegas airport – a bit too late to start any hikes, but just in time to catch the sunset. I make my way to Bryce Point, which offers one of the most scenic vistas of the full Bryce amphitheatre. There’s a large viewing platform with 180-degree views, and a few of the hiking trails start from here. You see sort of what’s in the photo below, but it’s one of those places where a photograph doesn’t do justice to the incredible landscape.
After admiring the spectacular views from here, I drive a short distance to Paria View. There’s a short walk to this more remote lookout, which faces west and catches the last rays of the setting sun. It’s also much less busy than Bryce Point – I see less than five people for the hour I’m here.
The views are not as spectacular as Bryce Point, but still pretty impressive as the colours change with with setting sun.
I’ve got just enough time to get to Sunset Point before it’s dark. It’s quite a change after Paria View – from enjoying an almost deserted lookout, I’m now sharing the view from Sunset Point with hundreds of people, both at the lookout and on the very popular Navajo Loop Trail below.
Not that the number of people is surprising – this is the most spectacular sunset vantage point, with the hoodoos almost glowing red against the darkening sky.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s hike. ‘Though while some places make you work hard to earn the view, Bryce feels almost the opposite. I could sit here all day and watch the changing colours of the almost surreal landscape, without making any effort.
I get up early – to catch the sunrise, avoid the crowds and allow plenty of time for an extended circuit that combines four of the most popular Bryce Canyon trails: the Najajo Loop, Peekaboo Loop Trail, Queen’s Garden Trail and the Fairyland Loop Trail.
Navajo Loop (1 mile / 1.6km)
The Navajo Loop Trail is arguably the best walk if you’re limited for time or just looking for a short walk: it descends to the floor of Bryce Canyon, past some spectacular rock formations. You extent the Navajo Loop by combining it with the Peekaboo Loop Trail or Queens Garden Loop.
Peekaboo Loop Trail (4 miles / 6.4km)
The Navajo Loop Trail connects to the longer Peekaboo Loop Trail, which features a huge amount of hoodoos (columns or pinnacles of weathered rock) and rock formations including The Cathedral (a large butte) and tunnels carved through the rocks.
Queen’s Garden Trail (2 miles / 3.1km)
Havingh completed the very scenic Peekaboo Loop Trail, I continue along the Queen’s Garden Trail which starts with a tunnel cut into the rock, before following a long row of hoodoos. This is one of the most popular Bryce Canyon trails, which offerssome of the most spectacular views in the park.
Fairyland Trail (9 miles / 14.5km)
The Queens Garden Trail connects to the longest loop walk via the Rim Trail. It’s a less popular walk due mainly to its length, but like the other walk takes you past more impressive rock formations, including Tower Bridge and the Boat Mesa.
Fairyland Point to Sunset Point – Rim Trail (3 miles / 5km)
It’s uphill from Fairyland Point to Sunset Point, especially the first mile, but fairly gradual. The Rim Trail follows the edge of the escarpment, so you get great views over the canyon below.
When to visit Bryce Canyon
You can visit Bryce Canyon year-round, and going in winter means it will be much less crowded. It’s generally considered that the best time to visit Bryce National Park is May through September – but this is always the busiest time, and if possible I would avoid the peak months of June/July. If you do visit in winter, it’s worth bringing some microspikes (I’ve always bought the Kahtoola microspikes) as there will be snow and ice on the trails.
Accommodation near Bryce Canyon
Inside Bryce Canyon National Park is The Lodge at Bryce Canyon, which is within walking distance of the walking trails and the Park Visitor Information Centre. It has hotel rooms and cabins. The Lodge is usually closed over winter (Jan-April), and books out well in advance in summer.
The nearest town, Bryce, is only a 5min drive away, and there is a shuttle between Bryce and key attractions within the national park.